I opened the cooler and saw some sort of bready thing wrapped in plastic wrap. “What is that?”
“They’re bierocks,” Jim said. Huh? “Yeah, they’re a Kansas thing. Cabbage burgers? Runzas?” Never heard of it.
Jim handed me one. “Cabbage burgers,” eh? Didn’t sound too appetizing. I hesitated, but hell, we’d just climbed down a mountain in Colorado after a successful ptarmigan hunt. I was starving. What the hell. I took a bite. It was cold, bready, meaty… and surprisingly good!
I decided then and there I needed to make these strangely awesome bready things. They have a long history in Eastern Europe.
It took me a few tries, but I now have a bierock recipe I really like. Aren’t they pretty?
Jim’s did not have seeds on top, but I like them. You can really get the flavor, too — it’s a bit like the topping on an “everything” bagel. The bread is fantastic, too. Light, pillowy, but strong enough to contain the filling.
The filling. I realized you could put anything inside these buns, but I stuck with a more or less traditional Polish bierock. Cabbage, onion and meat is a must. Sauerkraut factors in, and I like it a lot. I use my own fennel sauerkraut, but any good ‘kraut would work.
Most bierock recipes are super simple in terms of seasoning, but I added some Eastern European touches, like mustard, malt vinegar and thyme.
As for the meat, well… really anything goes. Anything. And if you are a vegetarian reading this, chopped mushrooms work every bit as well. I’ve made these bierocks with sharp-tailed grouse, sea ducks, regular ducks, venison and wild pork. The one thing you need to decide is whether you’re going ground or diced.
When I use bird breasts or another really tender cut, I will dice the meat small and add it raw to the filling; don’t worry, it cooks through when you bake the bierocks. Your other option is to add ground meat that you cook with the filling.
One other tip that no other bierock recipe seems to mention: You need to flatten the outside inch or so of the bread dough much thinner than the center. You actually want the center to be about 1/4 inch thick, so pretty thick. But the rim needs to be very thin. You put the filling on the center, and then fold up the outside rim to seal it. If you don’t flatten the outer part more than the center, you will have a huge glob of bread at the bottom of the bierock. Doing it this way keeps the bread relatively even. See?
A final note: Bierocks tend to look like this. Runzas, which are more of a Nebraska thing, are kinda square or rectangular. They taste about the same, though.
I hope you make these, and I’d love to hear about how you make them your own in the comments section!
Bierocks or Runzas
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 packet of yeast
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- ¼ cup room temperature butter
- 3 1/2 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 pound tender meat, diced small (see above)
- ¼ cup butter
- 2 cups shredded cabbage
- 1 cup chopped sauerkraut
- 1 cup chopped onion
- Salt and black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon mustard
- 2 tablespoons malt vinegar
- ¼ cup beer (lager or pilsner)
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten, for brushing the bierocks
- 2 tablespoons seeds (poppy, caraway, sesame, etc)
- Bloom the yeast in the warm water for 10 minutes, then mix all the remaining dough incredient together in a bowl. Knead on a floured surface for 5 minutes, then cover and let rest 1 hour.
- Make the filling. Heat the butter in a large pan and cook the cabbage, sauerkraut and onions over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Stir in the thyme, mustard, vinegar and beer and simmer until the liquid is all gone. Turn off the heat, and, when this is cool, mix well with the uncooked meat. Set in the fridge.
- After the first hour has elapsed, punch down the dough, knead a few more times, then roll into a ball, cover and let sit another hour.
- When the dough has about 30 minutes to go, take the filling out of the fridge. It is important that it goes into the bierock at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a baking sheet well.
- Cut the dough into eight pieces. Set the pieces you are not working on under plastic wrap or a damp towel. Divide the filling into eight parts, too.
- Roll a piece of dough into a ball, then flatten it to about 1/3 of an inch thick. Roll the outer inch of the dough thinner, to about ¼ inch thick or even thinner if you can – this makes what will become the bottom of the pastry match better with the top. Add some filling and bring the dough up all around it to seal. Set the dough seam side down on a floured surface and gently shape it into a flattened ball with your hands. Set on the greased baking sheet and repeat with the other pieces of dough.
- When all your bierocks are made and on the sheet, paint them all with egg and sprinkle with the seeds, plus a little more salt.
- Bake for 25 minutes, and cool a bit before serving. These are excellent at room temperature, too.